Members of a Pax Christi delegation have returned to the UK following an eight day visit to Palestine and Israel.
The focus of the visit was to make contact with teachers and those working with young people, to encounter life and occupation in the West Bank and Jerusalem and to meet with Pax Christi partners - women, teachers, peace and human rights NGOs - to learn from them and share approaches to teaching and presenting issues of conflict and violence.
An overarching concern, expressed by nearly all those whom the delegation met, was the war with Gaza.
Many Christian and Muslim Palestinians articulated their fear that the West Bank would be 'next' and their frustrations that in spite of so many words of concern about the impact of occupation by the international community, nothing on the ground has improved.
Teachers spoke of how their pupils had appeared absent minded in class during the war and how they had to struggle to prevent the burden of Gaza from overwhelming their students.
The delegation also experienced some of the practical realities of occupation that Palestinians face on a daily basis. They joined Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israeli (EAPPI) volunteers at the Bethlehem checkpoint at 5.00 am in the morning to witness the humiliation of hundreds of Palestinian workers who queue daily, some from as early at 2.00 am, to pass through turnstiles and security searches in order to work in Jerusalem.
In Hebron the delegation joined Accompaniers who walk daily with teachers and pupils of the Cordoba school to protect them from harassment from Israeli settlers who live in the centre of the old city and from members of the Israeli Defence Forces who staff checkpoints.
In spite of the hardships and mis-treatment of people the delegation were aware of a great spirit of steadfastness or Sumud (the Arabic word) in the lives of those they met.
Israeli and Arab teachers who bravely challenge acts of violence and stereotyping of the 'other'; mothers who talk of their pain 'giving them power' to overcome obstacles; young people who choose to stay and make a life for themselves in a situation that seems totally hopeless; Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, some working to monitor human rights while others work to restore the culture and traditions of Palestine that are threatened by occupation.
On 14 February the delegation joined with their partner organisation the Arab Educational Institute near the separation wall at Rachel's Tomb at the entrance to Bethlehem for a candle-lit vigil for peace in Israel and Palestine. Prayers for peace and passages from the bible were read during the vigil.
The delegation will work to produce a range of reports and resources based on their visit and make these available through Pax Christi's networks and website.
Members of the delegation were (all Pax Christi members) John Harkin, Vice-Principal, Oakgrove Integrated School, Derry, Northern Ireland Ann Farr, Pax Christi Executive Committee member, Coventry Mary Boley, Christian Education Centre, Tooting, London John Williams, Adviser Catholic Education - secondary support team, Westminster Diocese, London Hilary Topp, Peace Education Worker, Pax Christi Pat Gaffney, General Secretary, Pax Christi